High School Sports

Central set for final hurdle before state

Young and inexperienced when the season began more than three months ago, the Central Cougars will look to take that final step to the Class 2A girls basketball state tournament on Monday at Illinois College in Jacksonville.

Ranked third in the Class 2A state poll, Central (27-3) will take on the unheralded Athens Wildcats (29-3) at 7 p.m. at the Jacksonville Super-Sectional, with the winner advancing to Friday’s state semifinals at Redbird Arena in Normal.

The dominant Class 2A team in Southern Illinois throughout the 2014-15 season, Central advanced to the super-sectional for the second straight year and for the third time in four years when it defeated Nashville 37-33 on Friday in the title game of the Wesclin Sectional.

Like most Nashville-Central games in recent years, the game was filled with emotion as the Cougars rallied for the win.

“It was a very hard-fought game by both teams. It was also a very physical game and I didn’t think we played all that well. I thought we lost our composure a little bit and that kind of surprised me,’’ Cougars coach Nathan Rueter said. “But we did enough to win the game and move on.

“We expect a tough game on Monday. I’ve seen Athens play. They’ve got a good, solid team.’’

While Central is tournament tested, Athens is trying to make a name for itself in the world of Class 2A girls basketball

The Warriors, who defeated Litchfield 42-38 on Friday to win the Litchfield Sectional, had not won a regional title until this year.

Athens enters Monday, riding a 21-game winning streak.